Recently a friend brought something up that I see far too often.
A lot of people, myself included are used to being athletes in high school. Once high school ends, only a handful of athletes will experience what it is like to compete at a collegiate level. This leaves the rest of us, well - lost.Even if you are not previously an athlete, moving forward into college is like moving into a new world.
For the most part, prior to college, we are used to having an everyday routine that keeps us in check. Wake up. Go to school. Go to practice. Compete 1-2x per week. If you did this for any sport, chances are you were in decent shape.
Fast forward. You get to college. You don’t play a sport anymore. You’re not involved in any clubs. You have a meal plan which provides what is essentially an unlimited amount of food. Now what?
How do we manage all this free time? I’ve heard of the freshman 15, is it real? I want to continue playing sports, but I’m not good enough to play at a college level - These were all thoughts going through my head before entering my freshman year.
It took a while, but getting into my groove at school came down to trial and error. I had to figure out what worked for me and I managed my time around just that. I’m going to breakdown what I had to work on and how I created a plan. First and foremost, let’s organize our priorities.
- Finding an activity
- Figuring out how and what to eat
- Staying motivated and disciplined
- Work/Social life balance
Let’s first begin with finding an activity. I’m sure most people like myself will start hitting the gym to fill the void of not playing a sport - or just to stay fit. The problem here is that most people will go to the gym without a set plan or they go to fill the void (meaning they have no passion behind it - not sustainable). If you want to hit your school gym and create a set routine, I suggest educating yourself on different workout regimens and really fine tuning what your goals are. This blog post can help you do that.
Another great alternative to your school’s gym is finding a group fitness-boutique gym. There are many places that offer class programs such as Orangetheory and F45. They provide a community like setting, which creates a fun environment where members can build strong relationships and keep each other accountable.
If the gym isn’t your thing - that is completely fine. You can always continue playing sports or try experimenting with new ones. It’s time to tap into your school resources. I’m going to use Rutgers University as an example. Did you know that there are over 40 unique clubs you can join at this school? For me personally, I tried wrestling, soccer and running all before I stumbled onto my love for Brazilian jiu jitsu. Low and behold the club was being taught by the #3 ranked athlete in the world, Garry Tonon - and for an extremely inexpensive price. How lucky are we that this program was offered at my school, unbeknownst to almost everyone. Years down the line, I am still very active in jiu jitsu and it is something I will be doing for a lifetime.
What I am trying to say here is - experiment. Find out what you like to do. Or go back to doing what you like to do. Playing what you once did in high school can end up creating a nice healthy routine during the school year. The key is to find a physical activity that you are passionate about. It will keep you motivated, competitive and most of all - active.
Let’s move onto creating a healthy relationship with food.
Guess what. Now you are on your own. Your parents aren’t there to prepare you breakfast and dinner anymore. You either get a meal plan or are responsible for making your own food. If you happen to get a meal plan, you are now exposed to ungodly amounts of unhealthy food (for the most part - I will touch on this in another blog post). Yeah, that freshman 15 you heard about - that’s a very real thing. Sometimes it’s even 30. That happened to me, except it was a sophomore 30.
Anywho, you need to make sure you are keeping your eating habits in check. With an unlimited meal plan, various restaurant choices in addition to heavily drinking - college is a recipe for weight gain. To keep yourself in check, I suggest educating yourself on the different forms of dieting or counting your calories. Yes it is a bit of extra work, however that bit of extra work can be the difference between gaining 15-20 unwanted pounds or staying fit. This blog post can help.
If you do not opt to get a meal plan, you are in charge of your groceries. This can make a world of a difference since you know exactly what you will be eating everyday. If you plan your grocery list ahead of time along with your allotted calories (macros), you can always keep yourself accountable. This will ensure you are prioritizing your meals alongside your diet. It’s easy to stay away from overeating because you can track your food down to the last ounce in your own home (or apartment). Just be consistent and plan ahead.
Universities have an abundance of parties, people, and fun activities. With so many fun things to do, my motivation went to an all time low. It became difficult to prioritize time to work out or go to jiu jitsu. So how did I return to what was important?
When my motivation lacked, I had to rely on discipline. I always found myself back in the gym, back on my diet and returning to training because of one central idea. I always performed my best when I felt the best.I felt mentally, physically and even spiritually sharper the harder I worked. Not only did I feel it, but my academics improved significantly. If you don’t believe me, there are several studies linking physical activity to improved academic performance and overall well-being.
Studies have shown “Taken together, the findings across studies suggest that an increase in aerobic fitness, derived from physical activity, is related to improvements in the integrity of brain structure and function and may underlie improvements in cognition across tasks requiring cognitive control”. Additionally, another study suggests “physical activity leads to a substantial increase of blood flow to the brain in the anterior cingulate, which indicates that there is a higher level of neuronal activity. Furthermore, quality blood flow levels to the anterior cingulate are closely associated to superior cognition in the latter years of a person’s life”.
Motivation will come and go. When your motivation is low, you must rely on discipline to remain focused. I kept the idea in my head that I needed to exercise or participate in some form of physical activity to become my best self. So far my self-prophecy has proven every bit true. Staying mentally and physically fit gave me the drive to carry on when life got tough. Remaining disciplined when sticking to my routine brought me success academically and physically.
College students feel an enormous amount of pressure to succeed. It comes from our peers, parents and professors. The three P’s. A lot of my colleagues, including myself feel the need to drive ourselves into the ground with work. I almost feel guilty when I am not working. This is why I want to stress how important it is to have a work/social life balance.
As for my juvenile years in college, I really only focused on my social life. While my academics suffered, I was out having the time of my life. As a result, I really had to focus on my academics my junior and senior year while my social life suffered. I wish I knew the importance of balancing my life back then so that I had an equal amount of fun each year. I believe work and fun should feed off of each other. You can only work so hard until you burn yourself out. Be kind to yourself. Make time for people you love. Create incredible memories. Do all of this.But at the same time, don’t let the fun completely replace the need for hard work. Take the path with the most resistance. Do things that will challenge you mentally, physically and spiritually. It will define your character and reveal your best self. Constantly challenge yourself, but always make time for fun.
We went over a lot of things. Let’s recap how you can be successful in college.
- Organize yourself
- Find an activity you enjoy, whether that’s the gym, sport, martial arts, etc. use local school clubs and resources to your advantage
- Create a set eating routine - doesn’t have to be complicated. Know when and what you’re going to eat everyday, don’t overeat from your schedule. Keep yourself in check
- Experiment with activities until you find something you truly enjoy and will make you want to go everyday.
- Motivate yourself to do better
- Stay disciplined enough to accomplish your goals
- Create an work/social life balance
- Challenge yourself
- Have an equal amount of fun
Chung, Q. E., Abdulrahman, S. A., Khan, M., Sathik, H., & Rashid, A. (2018). The Relationship between Levels of Physical Activity and Academic Achievement among Medical and Health Sciences Students at Cyberjaya University College of Medical Sciences. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences : MJMS, 25(5), 88–102. doi:10.21315/mjms2018.25.5.9
Committee on Physical Activity and Physical Education in the School Environment; Food and Nutrition Board; Institute of Medicine; Kohl HW III, Cook HD, editors. Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2013 Oct 30. 4, Physical Activity, Fitness, and Physical Education: Effects on Academic Performance. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK201501/